Hello new postgrad researchers

The other week, I was asked to give a five minute overview of my experience as a postgrad and any advice I thought might be useful to incoming postgrad researchers. I discovered that five minutes is not enough, and that other’s don’t seem to think I’m as cynical as I am (or it just didn’t come across clearly).
In essence, I want to tell new postgrads that not everything will be rosy all the time, but that people are there to help (although they may not be the people you want to help). I think the main point I had was to look after your mental health. Continue reading

Pizza, bread, dough

About five years ago I started making yeast breads and asked my beloved for a pizza stone for my birthday. Thus began the great pizza-making adventure. A good yeast bread isn’t too hard to make, though making great yeast bread took a bit more experimenting. Same with the pizza, a good pizza is easy to make, great pizza takes a bit more thinking, but even failed attempts are delicious.
For yeast breads, I found that I am very happy working with stupidly wet doughs. Though it took a couple of years to get there, it’s worth every ten-minutes-scraping-your-hands-under-the-tap-trying-to-get-the-sticky-dough-off until you realise that you don’t even need to knead this bread all that much. You end up adding a bit more flour when you roll out the pizza bases but the matching loaf made with the leftover dough is wonderfully fluffy with a chewy crust.
Last year I picked up a tub of horlicks intending to make @wholesomeIE‘s malted milk biscuits (which I still haven’t made…) and wondered if there were any other recipes I could use it in. Horlicks is a mix of malt and milk powder, so I wondered if you could use it as a dough improver. A lot of the loaves of yeast bread I made, I used half milk/half water as it gave a softer inside and the bread lasted a two to three days without turning into a rock. It turns out horlicks is a brilliant dough improver. The horlicks bread keeps as well as the milk breads and gets a browner crust thanks to the malt. The pizza crust turns out better than a milk bread pizza crust too. Since I discovered horlicks as a dough improver, I haven’t made a batch without it and have gone through two tubs of horlicks (it’s also nice added to hot chocolate, but made up on its own with milk it’s gross).
As well as owning a pizza stone, I can highly recommend owning dough scrapers. They’re pretty handy for scraping wet dough off surfaces, folding over wet dough, and scraping all the flour up when you’re finished. You can use them to cut dough as well, or move lumps of dough about. After five years of making bread without them, and a few months making bread with them, I would say don’t wait as long as I did to get a pair (one is good, two are better).

Doughscrapers, dredger and horlikcs

Two doughscrapers, dredger and a tub of horlicks. Non essential yet essential, highly recommended

Continue reading

Baileys and milk chocolate cheesecake

Instead of trifle and romantica, for Christmas dessert this year my mother requested I made my lemon drizzle cake and she’d make a Bailey’s cheesecake. When the drizzle cake was made, I offered to make the cheesecake while I was at it, as I love making cheesecake and don’t make it as much since I moved to Dublin (my beloved doesn’t care for it, and the fridge in work is just manky so you can’t offload it there). I probably based the recipe off a few other cheesecakes I made years back. Before I left for Dublin, I left the recipe with my mother who gets to make it a lot more often than I do, so I just used that piece of paper instead of my memory.

It’s gelatine free, the chocolate ganache isn’t runny so it stays reasonably stiff. If you like, you can leave out the Baileys. Use the best chocolate you can find, there’s so few ingredients that you want to use the finest you can.

The biscuits are counted out as filling the 18cm loose bottomed tin at a depth of approximately 2 biscuits, I’m not sure how much they weigh, someday I’ll check. Crush them in a strong plastic bag, ziplock top bags are usually sturdy enough or double bag a thin sandwich bag. You can bash the biscuits with a rolling pin or you can just mash them with your fingers. Chocolate digestives work well with it too, they’re smaller, so you’ll need more than eleven :) For a larger tin, scale up the biscuits and butter, scaling the cheesecake depends on whether you like a huge layer of cheesecake on the base or not.

The mother's xmas table with cheesecake

Floral arrangement by my mother, laser cut decorations by Fiona Snow, cheesecake by me.

  • 11 mcvities digestive biscuits all crushed up (for other brands see my above advice on measuring out)
  • 75g butter melted
  • 200 + 50 mL cream
  • 200 g best quality milk chocolate (we usually use the Lindt extra creamy, all of two bars go into the cake, so you’ll need a third to munch on)
  • 360g full fat cream cheese (2 philadelphia tubs)
  • 75 g baileys (about two Irish measures (37.5mL) or three UK measures (25 mL ) )

Melt the chocolate with 50 mL of the cream. Stir well and set the ganache aside to cool.

Crush the biscuits well. Stir into the melted butter and press into the bottom a loose bottom or springform tin (my mother’s tin is about 18cm in diameter, you can use slightly larger too). Pop into the fridge until you’re ready for it.

When the chocolate ganache is cool, beat it into the cream cheese, then beat in the baileys. Whip the remaining cream. Fold the cream into the chocolate mix, then pour on to the biscuit base. Put in the fridge for at least 2 hours if not over night.

To get the cake out of a loose bottom tin, put it on top of a can (beans, chopped tomatoes, it doesnt matter), and press down evenly on the sides. There’ll be minimal cheesecake left stuck to the sides. For springform, loosen the spring slightly, if you need to free the cake a little, run a knife around the edge. Then open the spring fully and lift it off carefully. Then enjoy any cheesecake that was stuck to the sides!

part eaten piece of cheesecake

Om nom nom, this wasn’t my first slice of this, so I could eat it slow enough to take pictures…

Spiced madeira cake

I love cinnamonny things, especially on a winter evening, but you can’t have mulled cider everytime you want a warm spicy treat. This spiced madeira cake is a lovely, caramelly treat that’s great fresh from the oven, or taken from the freezer and toasted.
The muscavado sugar gives a lovely molasses-y flavour, and I added the nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in my usual quantities of 1:2:3. If you had ground cloves, they might go well in the cake too. I only keep cloves for mulling though, so my cake gets a pass on that flavour.
I don’t care for fruit cake, but you could add any sort of dried fruits that you think might go. Madeira cake is pretty forgiving, so you can add as much as you feel like (or none :) ).

Look at that lovely cake. All the flavours of Chrismas, with no hidden fruit.

Look at that lovely cake. All the flavours of Chrismas, with no hidden fruit.

Continue reading

Mulling syrup for cider

Mulled cider is a great drink on a winter evening. Heavy on the cinnamon, warm to clutch in your frozen hands. What’s not to like? (Cider itself according to himself). So I make mulled cider for one by adding some pre-spiced syrup to a single can or bottle of cider.

It’s a fairly flexible recipe, so if you want it sweeter to go with a dry cider, add more sugar. Love cloves more than I do? Fire a few more in the pot. Can’t find ginger root? Substitute it for crystalised ginger and remove some sugar (I think I dropped it by 50g that time). I add the juice toward the end, as I don’t think it benefits from boiling. You can just quarter the oranges and throw them in at the start, but it doesnt really get as much juice out and you end up with some bitterness. If you’re hosting a party, skip making the syrup and add everything bar the water to the cider and heat that for a half hour instead.

I usually end up with about 600mL liquid in the end (after reducing to half and then adding in the juice), which does about 2.5 – 3L cider. As when mulling wine, if you use a terrible cider, it will be drinkable, but if you use a good cider it’ll be outstanding. If you’re planning to use it to mull apple juice (or low alcohol ciders), reduce the sugar by at least half, they’re very sweet to begin with, and adding loads of syrup will make it undrinkable.

Bottle, ikea. Funnel, ikea. Strainer, the metal filter from the drip coffee machine (paper reduces the grit at the end of the coffee, so the mesh is for mulling now)

Bottle, ikea. Funnel, ikea. Strainer, the metal filter from the drip coffee machine (paper reduces the grit at the end of the coffee, so the mesh is for mulling now)

  • 1 litre water
  • 200g caster sugar (you can go up or down depending on the type of cider you normally get)
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tsp nutmeg (ground or grated, up to you)
  • 12 cloves (precise, you can up it if you love cloves)
  • 4 inches of ginger root, sliced (or a bag of crystallised ginger, but reduce the sugar)
  • Zest of 2 oranges (life’s too short for microplaning for this recipe, a regular zester will do)
  • Juice of 2 oranges

Put everything except the juice in a pot. Heat until it’s steaming gently but not boiling. Stir occasionally till the sugar is disolved. Continue to heat for about an hour and the liquid has reduced to half or a third of the starting volume. Add the juice of the oranges. Strain into a bottle. Let to cool, then store in the fridge.

The sad remains after the syrup is done.

The sad remains after the syrup is done.

When you want a hot cider, pour a bottle or can into a pot, add about 100mL of the syrup (or more or less to taste, 500mL + 100mL is about right spicewise to start with, drop to 60mL for longnecks). Heat gently and pour into a giant mug (or two regular mugs if you can share). I usually swirl the bottle of syrup before pouring as the ground nutmeg settles otherwise (it fits through the strainer, so it’ll always be there).

Polenta Spud Waffles for Chilli

Thanks to Lidl and Clare, I now own a waffle iron. I’m still trying to figure out the optimum breakfast waffle, and have yet to try mad things like waffling brownies, but I did make a potato-corn-based-waffle for going with delicious chilli. It’s not like a Potato Waffle, but as they’re already perfect and available frozen by the kg, I don’t need to figure those out.

Waffles and chilli

Waffles with beef chilli, sour cream and chive, tortillas and a reasonable amount of cheddar.
There was no time for finding the proper camera, so it’s back to phone pictures.

This recipe makes about 6 Belgian waffles-worth. Enough for three big plates of chilli, or two chillis and some breakfast.

  • 250g cold (leftover) mashed potato
  • 30g flour
  • 20g polenta
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 100mL milk
  • butter for oiling the waffle iron

Mash up the potato with the flour, polenta, and baking powder. Beat the egg and milk together in a jug. Pour into the spud/flour mix, beating all the time with a fork. The mix doesnt need to be smooth, just well combined. Turn on the waffle iron, and brush the plates with butter.
The batter puffs up, thanks to all the baking powder, so take care not to overload the iron. Turn halfway through cooking if needed.
Serve with chilli and lashings of cheese and sour cream. Any leftover waffles can be cooled on a wire rack and toasted for breakfast (or frozen for the next time you have chilli).

Veggie chilli

Chilli non carne with plenty of cheese. Note the absence of sour cream. A foolish way to eat chilli

Raspberry bakewell tart

In my quest to learn how to make laminated doughs (think croissants), I picked up Murielle Valette’s Patisserie. It’s brilliant, I’ve even cooked more than one thing from it already (croissants, pain au chocolate, lemon tart, dense chocolate cake and the modified bakewell below). For my colleague’s birthday, I insisted on making her some cake, and made a bakewell as I had all the ingredients to hand (in fact, the pastry had been made and frozen the weekend before). Instead of the apricot and almond tart in the book, I went for a raspberry bakewell, which went down very well when I brought it into work on the Monday.

Slices of cake

Look at that beautiful layer of jam

I’d highly recommend the book if you like French pastries (and cake in general), it’s divided into a techniques section and various chapters based on particular doughs (puff pastry/brioche/choux) and I’ll certainly be making more from it. It’s a great way to fill your workmates with butter, as it’s a critical part of most of these tasty treats.

What a marvellous book!

What a marvellous book!


  • 230g flour
  • 140g salted butter (normal butter in a gold wrapper, otherwise add salt)
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 1 egg

Rub the flour and butter together until it’s breadcrumblike. Don’t overwork it or the butter will melt and the pastry won’t be lovely and crisp. Mix in the sugar, add the egg and mix quickly until it forms a large ball. STOP WORKING THE PASTRY. Mash into a vaguely rectangular shape, wrap it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge, have a coffee and sit down for an hour.
Divide the dough in half and freeze a portion (you can use this for more cake in the future). Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it’s about 4mm thick. Gently lower it into your favourite pie tin and form gently into the corners. Trim the top of the pastry with a sharp knife and put the pastry into the fridge for another half hour. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
Put a load of baking paper into the pastry case and fill with baking beans (or uncooked rice or lentils, I use some red lentils I don’t care for). Bake for 40mins. Remove the baking paper and contents and put the pastry back in the oven for 5 more mins to brown the middle slightly. Take out of the oven to cool while you prepare the almond filling. Leave the oven on, you need it at 160°C in ten mins anyway.


  • 110g softened butter
  • 110g caster sugar (plain sugar or vanilla sugar)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, if you use vanilla caster sugar, you can leave this out
  • 90g ground almonds
  • 25g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 dessertspoons of good rasberry jam
  • a large handful raspberries, frozen is grand

Beat the sugar, butter and vanilla essence together. Add the ground almonds and flour and mix well. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, mixing well.
Spread the jam on the bottom of the pastry case. Pour over the almond filling. Drop in some raspberries. Bake at 160°C for 45 mins. Cool in the tin. Turn out and serve with the best coffee you have.

Ready to go to work and get chopped up and devoured

Ready to go to work and get chopped up and devoured

Christmas Cookies, or anytime-spiced-iced-cookies

At the recent sugar craftnight in TOG (our annual Xmas party where the crafters eat too much cake and biscuits and hot chocolate), I had a go off proper icing, with an icing bag and all, and decorated a rather dapper velociraptor (raptor made by Becky).  It was also my first go off making royal icing for decorating, and I quite enjoyed the whole thing, so went out and got icing gear and a Christmas tree cutter so I could keep icing at home.


Christmas jumpers are only for cookies, not grown humans

So far as I can tell, the only thing consistent between royal icing recipes is that it contains egg whites and sugar. The methods aren’t all consistent, and things like the addition of lemon juice or glycerine seem optional, even the eggs to sugar ratio varies from page to page.  If you’re using the icing to decorate a cake, there’s probably a lot more effort to be put into beating it to make it stiff, but for piping on to biscuits and doing a flood fill, things are a lot more flexible.  Also, use gel food colourings if you want proper colour, the liquidy ones only work when they’re what your using to hydrate the icing as you’d need to add to much for a vibrant effect.

You can buy bags of powdered royal icing in the shops, so you can make up as much as you need.  Thin it out with lemon juice so you can pipe with it, and thin it out even further for flood filling areas that you’ve piped around the edges (see the Xmas trees, the edge is the boundary to stop the flood fill rolling off thet cookie).  The advantage of the powdered royal icing is that the egg whites are dried and mixed already, meaning you don’t have to mess around separating egg whites and feeding raw egg to people who don’t want it (and may not recognise that it’s in icing).

Pretty trees

The trees were flood filled after piping around the edges. They were decorated when the flood was mostly dry, so the icings merged a little.

Of course, what’s the point in iced cookies without cookies! Many thanks to Carri for the recipe which I have duly modified by chucking in some spices.  I’ll probably be more heavy handed the next time, but at this ratio, people who normally don’t like cinnamon or ginger did their best to eat the whole batch. You could also use vanilla in place of the spices, though I think cinnamon should be added to every baked thing (within reason, maybe).  Leave some undecorated for the people who don’t care for icing.


  • 225g butter
  • 175g icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 450g flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line some trays with baking paper. Get the wire cooling rack ready and a plate for cooled cookies too, as the cookies will constantly be going in and out of oven and you’ll need somewhere to put them. This recipe makes a LOT of cookies.

Cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the egg. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices and add to the mix. Knead briefly and roll out to about 5mm thick. Cut out with your preferred cutters, place on the baking tray (they don’t spread too much during cooking, but leave a little space between them anyway). Bake them for about ten minutes, until they are a pale golden colour. Let to cool for a minute before transferring to the wire rack (they’re a little fragile straight out of the oven). When they’re cold, move them off the rack to a plate, as the next batch will be out of the oven shortly.

showing off

The cookies should be golden before you turn them into instruments of sugar delivery

When the cookies are all made, make up the icing according to the pack. Take some of the icing into a new bowl and add the colour and thin with lemon juice until you can pipe it. If you want to floodfill, go round the outside of the area you want to fill, then thin the icing even further with more lemon juice so it’s pourable and you can fill the space on the cookie. The floodfill ends up paler than the outline if you simply thin the outline paste without adding more colour. Let the icing to partly dry at least before you move on to the next step. These cookies lasted about four days from baking, well they were finished within four days, so I’m not sure how long they’d last beyond it.

Craigies Ballyhook Flyer 2012

This has been lying in the fridge for a few weeks, waiting for me to get around to drinking it.  The Craigies Ballyhook Flyer smells like actual apples, appley apples rather than fermented apples.  It’s dark and cloudy and smells even more appley when it’s in the glass.  It’s a very dry cider, not as sweet as it smells, but it’s very drinkable (now it’s aaaaaaall gone).

If you like dry cider, you’ll love it. If you like sweet cider, you won’t. If like me, you prefer medium dry, you’ll just have to try it, and have it at the right time when you’re in the mood for it. I’d love to cook with it, I’d say it’d be lovely for casseroling sausages in. Sadly I’ll have to go seek out a bottle in town and I can be lazy at times.

Bought from: Celtic Whiskey Shop

How much: Somewhere between €4 and €5 (Irish cider isn’t particularly cheap but seems to stay under a fiver in off licences)

Ate with: The memory of Chinese takeaway, eaten earlier in the evening

ABV: 5.8%

Buy again? Maybe if I come across it. I imagine it’d be amazing for cooking pork or ham in…

craigies ballyhook flyer

It’s gone now, but it was delicious and not-see-through

When Science goes bad, there’s always Cake

Many of the scientists at work are talented bakers, and the rest are pro’s at eating cake. Quite a few of us have the back up plan “if the science doesn’t work out, I’ll open a bakery/café/restaurant”, after all, baking is a sort of science…

During an experiment that wasn’t going very well, I started chatting with Laura about cakes that could represent various aspects of science, whether the experiment is working or not. So here’s some of my possible science-cake suggestions, and some examples of how science can learn from disaster cakes.

The device isn’t capturing cells at all:
Super rich dense chocolate brownie, with walnuts. Served sandwiched with a very good vanilla icecream and a dark chocolate and whiskey sauce poured over the top.  In a bowl, because you’ve learned your lesson about fluids misbehaving and a plate would make a mess.

A sadly batched tray of muffins, tasty but unbeautiful

Don’t buy the cheapest gloves, don’t buy the cheapest muffin cases. Science and baking have learned many similar lessons

The perfect micrograph using all those fiddly fluorescent stains
Summer fruits tart, with a rich, chewy batter half enveloping the fruit, and a very crisp yet crumbly base. Served with whipped cream with a hint of vanilla. The juicy fruits might stain the cream but it’s all terribly beautiful and neatly presented.

Even Linus Pauling gets it wrong
An orange drizzle cake, moist and delicious, with a scoop of lemony moussey curdlike stuff. No longer full of vitamin C after baking, but hey, megadosing vitC doesn’t work anyway!

Poor melty cinnamon rolls, but they went to a good home

The rolls have leaked in the oven? Still delicious. The PBS leaked in the autoclave? Still a sterile buffer.

Have you any science-cake suggestions? Could you happilly substitute science for cake in your every day life (or vice versa)?